“All generalizations are false, including this one.” – Mark Twain
Whether you call them controllers, smart home hubs, bridges, or gateways, user requirements are unique, and with the possible exception of tube socks, there is no single one-size fits all product for everyone. That said, each of the popular home automation controllers in the Home Automation Controller Feature Comparison Table have been assigned a grade below based on what I would consider to be a typical user.
Each of the controllers here have their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Although device compatibility and product maturity are factored into the overall scores already to some degree, several devices here may still have the potential for being the center of the best home automation system for your specific needs.
Although of interest to many of us, Apple HomeKit support was not a factor in the scoring, as none of these products are MFi certified for HomeKit connectivity and I can find no evidence of the encryption capabilities – or a plan or for this to occur anytime soon with any of the devices. The best hope for future HomeKit integration with these devices may be with an added bridge device.
For a detailed breakdown and comparison of the features of these controllers, see the Home Automation Controller Feature Comparison Table. For a review of many of the terms and criteria used in this table, reference the Darwin’s Den Home Automation Terms Glossary.
Darwin’s Den Grade: A-
The reasonable price of the SmartThings Hub, multiple protocol support, IFTTT integration, and increasing level of local control capabilities make this a prime contender in the home automation controller market. Protocol support for Z-Wave, Zigbee, and Bluetooth LE (future) decrease the likelihood of this controller becoming obsolete the day after you purchase it. The backup battery, Apple Watch, and Amazon Echo support are a nice bonus. See why you may still want to consider a UPS as part of your system even if your controller includes a battery backup.
Many of the SmartThing Hub’s automation triggers are still able to operate if your internet connection is lost, however, you will not be able to directly control your devices from your mobile device without an internet connection, even if you are connected directly to your home network. Some of the most useful capabilities for the SmartThings Hub come from user-developed content. The user-developed CoRE (Community’s own Rule Engine) for example, provides a generic rule engine capability that is glaringly missing from the base system. Unfortunately, since Samsung does not currently allow this user developed capability to execute on the device itself, it comes with a several second cloud execution price.
It is not uncommon for a SmartThings community member to have a device handler available in less than a week after a new Z-Wave or Zigbee device hits the market – well before the device is made compatible with most other controllers.
The limited local control capability, occasional operations glitch and confusing user interface are the primary drawbacks of the SmartThings Hub. The aggressive approach of supporting and encouraging user developed content ends up being a risk/reward decision for both SmartThings and its user base. Personally, I’m willing to pay the price of near-term system stability for the impressive flexibility and user community support that the SmartThings platform offers. If your home automation or security needs are mission critical, or you are the type of person that gets terribly annoyed with the occasional glitch, the SmartThings Hub may not be for you.
For more details, see the DarwinsDen.com Samsung SmartThings Hub V2 Review
Darwin’s Den Grade: B+
HomeSeer provides home automation software capable of running on Windows, Linux, and Macintosh computers. In order to provide this Zee S2 all-one-one lower-cost hardware and software solution, HomeSeer has packaged their software running under Linux on a very capable Raspberry-Pi2 with a GPIO Z-Wave daughter card.
In addition to its included Z-Wave interface, the Zee S2 can control Insteon and X10 devices with an optional $80 Insteon Power Lync Module. The Zee S2 includes an Ethernet port and requires hardwired connectivity by default, however if a WiFi interface is important for your system, for a mere $10, you can pick up an optional USB Wifi Adapter – although it is somewhat limited in range.
The HomeSeer local interface can be extended for remote internet control by enabling port forwarding on your router, and HomeSeer also offers a free cloud option as well as free IOS and Android mobile apps with the unit. In addition to its cloud-based service, HomeSeer now offers free Amazon Echo and IFTTT integration, which are unique and powerful offerings for a system with such strong local control based capabilities. Lastly, for full system customization, the HomeSeer software supports a powerful scripting and device control API and an optional interface Designer application.
The Zee S2’s three main drawbacks are its price, overall complexity, and lack of a Zigbee interface option. Although the Zee S2 didn’t get the top score, it may be exactly what you are looking for in a home controller if you are an engineer type hobbyist and tinkerer, and you don’t need to try the latest peripheral devices the week after they are released.
I really like this controller and the HomeSeer software’s very functional, albeit somewhat engineering-geek oriented event management system. It’s a very different beast than the SmartThings Hub, and I use and appreciate them both. When I have a need for near mission critical control, complex interactions, secure local operation, or near real-time response with well established Z-Wave devices, I choose to use the Zee S2. For those cases where I need to connect both SmartThings and HomeSeer devices or actions together, IFTTT makes it feasible, if not relatively painless when simple two-state changes need to be communicated.
Darwin’s Den Grade: B+
Not personally tested. The ISY994i Controller is a relatively expensive, but mature controller. The ISY994iZ model includes a Z-Wave (or alternatively Zigbee) interface by default on the device expansion slot. For an additional $60, an Insteon powerLinc module is a must-have option for those with existing Insteon devices.
The ISY994i sports a robust local interface that can be extended for remote internet control by enabling port forwarding on your router. Mobile device apps are available for purchase from third-party developers. Although the need to purchase 3rd party mobile apps is not as ideal as downloading the free apps that are available for many of other controllers, it is a small price to pay compared to a costly subscription service. The lack of IFTTT support is the primary drawback of this controller. A mature UREST API is available for those who want to fully customize their set-up.
Darwin’s Den Grade: B
Not personally tested. The Vera Edge Home Controller boasts a mature interface supporting local as well as Apple IOS, Android, and Windows mobile device control via the MiOS Secure Cloud. The VeraEdge provides a flexible rule and notification set, and robust developer API, but its Z-Wave only interface and lack of IFTTT support keep this controller from receiving higher marks.
With the addition of a Zigbee radio on the all-new VeraPlus, Vera Control has addressed the primary deficiency of the Vera Edge. Although the price point is $50 higher than the Edge, I feel the higher price of the Plus is worth it considering the added options and flexibility. With the Plus, the Vera controller line has the potential to be vaulted once again to near the top of the best home automation controller list. Stay tuned for updated details and rankings.
Darwin’s Den Grade: B
The Wink Connected Home Hub’s low-price, Z-Wave, Zigbee, and Bluetooth LE protocol support, IFTTT integration and developer API make this a hard to pass up option for many Home Automation enthusiasts. Wink offers a free cloud service and includes support for Apple IOS, Android mobile devices as well as application support for the Apple Watch and Android Wear.
Following the acquisition from Quirky by the American-based international electronics manufacturing giant Flextronics, the Wink’s price has increased from the very affordable $45, to a more typical (and arguably more appropriate) $80. Home Depot often has the Wink priced lower than what you can typically find on Amazon.
Just this February, Wink updated its firmware to support limited local control of light switches and bulbs without the previous required constant internet connection. Hopefully, this is a sign that Flextronics is investing significant resources into the Wink smart home automation system. Although the limited local control update is a welcome enhancement, the remaining cloud dependency for many of its connected devices is still the Wink’s main drawback.
This September, Flextronics unveiled the all-new Wink Hub 2. I am in the process of putting this much-improved controller through its paces. I have put together an initial Wink Hub 2 review and will be soon be providing a full evaluation review with updated rankings. The updated Wink Hub 2 features include:
- A Wi-Fi radio that supports both 2.4 and 5GHz networks as well as an Ethernet port
- Improved Bluetooth LE radio as well as support for Kidde, Lutron Clear Connect, Z-Wave, and ZigBee
- A faster processor and 8x more memory for increased speed and reliability for local control of Schedules and Robots
- New hardware security features – including cryptographic verification to prevent tampering, and ensure Wink Hub 2 only runs trusted software.
- A sleeker 25% slimmer look and more “elegant” (according to Flextronics) finish vertical design
Darwin’s Den Grade: C
Not personally tested. The Staples/D-Link Connect Hub is a low-cost, flexible option for those wanting to dip their toes into the Home Automation ocean. Protocol support for Z-Wave, Zigbee, and Bluetooth LE should decrease the anxiety that this device will quickly become a casualty of the Home Automation standards battle. The Staples Connect receives high marks for its ability to control devices locally without an internet connection, however, the lack of IFTTT support and proprietary API will likely keep the Connect from being an option for the more serious Home Automation enthusiast.
Darwin’s Den Grade: C-
The Almond + was a Kickstarter project and is different from the other controllers reviewed here, in that it is primarily a powerful b/g/n/ac (AC1750) wireless router/extender that also includes Z-Wave and Zigbee interfaces. The Almond+ boasts very capable hardware, an intuitive user interface, snappy rule execution, and responsive manual device operations that execute locally on the device. Securifi’s free cloud service provides remote device and router controls.
We really like the convenience of the built-in display control panel – and the idea of having a single device serving both your router and home automation needs. I really wanted to be able to recommend this device. The router capabilities worked well for us. Securifi is actively expanding its software feature set, but unfortunately the high price of this unit and current lack of automation interface features such as email, SMS text messaging, IFTTT, and sunrise/sunset rules make this device difficult to recommend for the more serious home automation enthusiast. Ours came with a free Zigbee Peanut switch, which was a nice complementary addition.
For more details, see Darwin’s Den’s Securifi Almond+ Review.
Securifi has recently updated the Almond+ firmware and cloud server to address the most critical feature deficiencies that I noted in my January review. Of particular note, Securifi has added IFTTT support and sunrise/sunset rule capability. I’ve updated our Almond+ hardware to the latest firmware and will soon be putting it through its paces. Stay tuned!
With these firmware and cloud additions coupled with the recent Almond+ price drop, I encourage you to give the Almond+ some thought when considering a home automation controller – particularly if a simple to set up, all-in-one wireless router and a simple, locally controllable home automation hub appeal to you.
Darwin’s Den Grade: D+
Not personally tested. As with the Securifi Almond+, the Almond 2015 is also a combination wireless router and home automation controller. The Almond 2015 is priced quite a bit lower than the Almond+, however the Almond 2015 only provides a Zigbee interface and reduced wi-fi/LAN capabilities. As with the Almond+, I cannot recommend this device for home automation purposes due to its current lack of software interface capabilities.
Darwin’s Den Grade: D
Not personally tested. The Nexia BR100NX bridge is a Z-Wave only device that includes built-in battery back-up and provides an extensive alert and notification capability. Nexia‘s robust and mature interface, developer API, and integration with a variety of industrial devices have made this a popular option for years. Unfortunately, a subscription service is required with the bridge, and I am the type of person that immediately begins adding up costs for these services over typical 3-5 year periods. The BR100NX’s costly monthly service fee, Z-Wave only interface , and lack of IFTTT support keep this device off of the recommended list.
Darwin’s Den Grade: D
Not personally tested. From a hardware perspective, the newly revamped Lowes Iris Smart Hub has most everything you could ask for, including Z-Wave, Zigbee, and Bluetooth interfaces as well as battery back-up.
The low price of the Iris makes it a tempting option on first blush, however the costly $9.99/mo service for the most basic rule capability makes this a very expensive choice for many users. The ultimate power in these controllers is achieved by defining the rules that execute automatically to make your life easier and safer, such as turning the lights on at sunset or when motion is detected. Without paying the monthly service fee, you can still receive device notifications, but you will not be able to program automated functions; the only option for device control is manually through the mobile application.
Originally posted: 29 February 2016